March 8, 2017 Subject:
The Ragtime Babe
Mabel, oh Mabel how gorgeous are you. The Keystone Girl is stunning here in her satin dress, and as fickle as April. First she is keen on a band-member, then, after a Mabel pout, turns her attention to the bandleader, a certain Ford Sterling doing his stock German impressions. Mom is Alice Davenport (as usual), who is a little unsure about her sweet Mabel getting involved with the Ragtime set. However, she finds the bandsman with the Kaiser Bill moustache a fine suitor for her naive daughter (a year later and she would have thrown the Kaiser clone out!).
Mabel attends the band's rehearsal at a local hall, which is full of German signs (Keystone was still in its Germanic phase). Mabel again displays her gorgeousness as she watches the band, and demonstrates her ability to instantly change mood when the bandleader throws her bandsman out . However, fickle Mabel returns and she begins to admire the rest of the band. The outcome of the session is that Mabel takes Professor Smelts (the bandleader) home to meet mother, where he offers Mabel an engagement ring. Never one to turn down a ring in real life, Mabel persuades mother that it’s OK.
Next we are at the hall again, where a show is put on with exotic dancer Salome, an acrobat, a fat lady, a pair of dancing sisters and Smelts’ band are on the bill. Salome and the sisters turn out to be hookers who advertise their bordello’s addresses on sign boards. While the hookers are thrown out, the acrobat comes on, but is soon pelted with vegetables. Next Smelts enters, a little gingerly – the audience is well supplied with cabbages. When he starts up, Smelts is pelted with cabbages by the ousted bandsman, and others soon join in. Smelts retaliates with a custard pie that Kaiser ‘tache has thrown, but hits Mabel square in the face. Soon everyone is throwing everything at the band, and they have to retreat, but Smelts returns with a hosepipe and turns it on the audience. Mabel gets a real soaking.
There are several interesting points about the film. Firstly, the picture represents racial stereotyping as accepted at the time: Jews are evil criminals, Turks are always ‘terrible’ and Germans play in brass bands and eat sauerkraut (or have it thrown at them). Secondly, the film was made at the time when Keystone was under scrutiny for the dodgy characters it employed. Part of the film might therefore represent a kick-back against the authorities. In the audience, second row, there is a Mabel lookalike called Jewel Carmen. She had just been caught working part-time at a bordello in Vernon, claiming she had been caught up in the white slave trade and was aged 15. However, police found out she was actually 23, but the Keystone company were so alarmed they decamped to Mexico until the thing was smoothed over (by Sennett bribes no doubt). This might explain the hooker’s signboards, which show actual addresses in Los Angeles. Were these brothels, or, perhaps, the homes of policemen? In any case, Miss Carmen would not have been too popular with the middle-class catholic girl, Mabel Normand (once described as ‘unusually pure’).
The word ‘jazz’ had only just been coined at this time, hence That Ragtime Band and not That Jazz Band. Of course, later on, Mabel was termed a ‘Jazz Babe’ although she was very dated by then and still wore prudish Edwardian fashions rather than ‘flapper’ gear. Mabel was also never a vamp, and ‘Ragtime Babe’ would be a more fitting description of her. While we are on names, what about Smelts. This is clearly some kind of a Sennett joke, and is an obvious parody of the proper name Smeltz.
November 24, 2016 Subject:
Original New Orleans Rhythm Kings :
Paul Mares (cnt) Santo Pecora (tb) Leon Roppolo (cl,as-1) Charlie
Cordella (ts) Glyn Lea "Red" Long (p) Bill Eastwood (bj) Chinck Martin (tu) Leo Added (d)
New York, January 23, 1925
8903-B - I never knew what a gal could do - Okeh 40422.
May 21, 2014 Subject:
A Nice Keystone Mess
This print looks pretty good, but the soundtrack attached to it is completely inappropriate, and at times even distracting. The production itself, however, is another nice look at the Keystone studios of over 100 years ago. Mabel doesn't get to do much except look pretty, be sympathetic, and get angry, but she does it all well. Ford Sterling's sometimes-excessive expressiveness works well here in his role as the frustrated (in more ways than one) bandleader. The address-on-the-card gags at the show are hilarious, and the German signs on the wall at the rehearsal hall are most curious. We never find out which suitor gets the miss, but everyone gets a nice mess.